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Shepherd with dromedaryExtreme & Expedition

Kaplankyr Adventure & Camel Trek

A 14-Day Off-road & Camel-Tour of Eastern Turkmenistan

This tour package leads to some of the remotest and most impressive parts of Turkmenistan. The two-week trip, covering tracks of over 2,500 km by safari-truck and camel, gives the opportunity to witness unique wildlife and to experience an active expedition camp and traditional ways of life in the desert and its magnificent customs. Under professional guidance of STANTOURS staff you will visit secrets of nature of a country hardly known to its local inhabitants. The severe climatic conditions in the summer and everyday camp-life will help to enhance the team spirit of each traveller. This adventure tour is suitable for everybody who loves nature and active relaxation.

Day 1
Arrival, Tour of Firuza valley, Nissa Fortress

Arrival at Ashgabat airport 5 km away from the city centre. Transfer to Chandybil Hotel (4 Stars) in the Berzengi area located on the outskirts of the city. After hotel breakfast, tour of Firuza valley and Nissa Fortress by minibus. Firuza valley is a popular relaxation spot 30 km west of Ashgabat with spectacular narrow gorges along cool streams. European style picnic in the valley on the riverside. The ruins of the Nissa Fortress-city date back 2,300 years and once formed a Parthian Royal Residence and also allow beautiful views of the surrounding hills and scenery. In the evening a traditional dinner with folklore dancing and music in a local house is arranged. Almost unknown in the west, you will enjoy traditional Turkmen cuisine and hospitality in its native setting.

Day 2
Full day road drive to Yangykala Canyon - 650 km

After breakfast, early morning loading of the expedition trucks in preparation for the full day road drive (650 km / 9 hrs) from Ashgabat to the Yangykala Canyon. The trucks are heavy specially modified 4WD vehicles (GAZ 53/66) with open backs (removable tilt roof) and seat about 12 persons with baggage comfortably. They have excellent off-road capabilities and allow us to venture where no tourists have ever been before. For the first 450 km we will be following along the edge of the Kopetdag mountain, which divides Turkmenistan and Iran, and crossing the Eastern Plains to then enter desert and steppe terrain on the way to the magnificent Yangykala canyon. The trip in the well ventilated back of the vehicle should give time to get used to the summer temperatures of 40-50°C in the shade and is an attraction by itself travelling at a comfortable speed of 70-80 km/h. A lunch will be prepared in a restaurant in Balkanabat (former Nebitdag). We arrive in the canyon before sunset - camp in tents under some of the clearest skies in the world at the edge of the canyon and relax by a bonfire. Dinner is prepared by STANTOURS staff. On this occasion the group will also receive desert safety precautions.

Day 3
Trekking in the Canyon area, visit of Gozel Ata Mausoleum and Hot Spring - 200 km

Turkmen Grandmother in YurtThe day starts with a light breakfast and a trekking tour into the valleys of the canyon in the surrounding area. Afterwards we will We then continue by truck to the Mausoleum of Gozel Ata some 80 km away where we will lunch and have a bath in the hot spring. In the afternoon we will set off on a 1 ½ hrs drive via the remote settlements of Kyzyl Kaya and Chagyl (110 km). The asphalt road terminates in Kyzylkaya and after passing Chagyl, the ground track enters the rich camel grazing grounds of the Eastern Karabogaz basin. On a small pool in one of the steppe valleys we will meet the camel caravan. Everybody will have a chance to watch the milking of the females and get to know the strong riding camels. We will camp next to the herd in tents and have dinner by the fire.

Day 4
Full-day camel caravan - 20 km

In the morning after breakfast we saddle the camels in preparation for our first day on camelback. With horses being less adapted to the harsh climate, the dromedaries selected are trained animals used by local shepherds. Camel riding on flat land is far less exhausting than horseback and STANTOURS will provide initial training for rising, turns and stops and some simple (camel) command. We then start with the caravan along the beautiful hillside on a leisure pace covering some 20 km (½ day). The countryside is wide and bordered by impressive cliffs and canyons. We will stop for a picnic lunch and throughout the trip STANTOURS guides will lead the group on horseback to ensure the safety of everybody. By the evening we will arrive at a new camp-site, already set up by our staff, with dinner waiting.

Day 5
Full Day camel ride to Karayman village - 35 km

UzboyThe second day on camelback is a spectacular 35 km off-road trek along ancient caravan routes following breathtaking cliffsides and crossing seemingly endless steppe. We will encounter large grazing camel herds and make various stops in the shadow of hills. This day should give a full impression of what the Silk Road meant to the caravan traveller, crossing these parts until just 10-15 years ago, when the last salt-bags where transported in this way. A light lunch with an opportunity to taste the local fermented camel-milk will help overcome the climate. The track ends at the edge of one of the many dry salt-lakes with the village of Karayman at the top of a hill that will be reached by evening. The group will stay in traditional yurts, which will serve as our base for the following 2 days of exploration of the surroundings. Karayman is the last settlement on the track before the Kaplankyr National Park and a strictly traditional village. A dinner of venison from the grill should give a good impression of the local diet.

Day 6
Half-day camel trek across sand desert, ½-day trip to Karashor Salt-lake - 80 km

After breakfast the sand desert nearby will be explored on camelback on a 10 km tour lasting about 3 hours. Saksaul bushes, and dunes form the background for a magnificent array of some 1,000+ indigenous species, the stars of which certainly are the speedy sand jerboas, huge monitor lizards, rare spiders, various kinds of scorpions and of course the occasional cobra. With some patience and special care - these creatures can be observed safely. STANTOURS hires local guides who will be able to share their own life experience and give some practical background on the wildlife. After lunch and crossing the dunes the group will be picked up by the trucks for an 80 km excursion to the Salt-lake of Karashor - the border of the Kaplankyr Reserve and the largest of the salt marshes in the areas with some impressive 250 m high cliffs on the east-coast. In the evening the group returns to the village on the trucks and again relaxes in the yurts.

Day 7
Day-trip into Kaplankyr National Park - 250-300 km

On the 6th day we head off by truck on a 250-300 km daytrip featuring wildlife-watching deep in the nature reservation. Depending on the time of the year this will either be on the shores of the salt-lake of Kazakhlyshor or further north-east, near the shores of lake Sarakamysh, the largest ' real' lake in the area. Comparable in area to a smaller European country, the park is virtually uninhabited and we are guaranteed to witness a roaming wildlife, amongst others Kulans (wild asses), goitred gazelles, rare species of eagles and eagle owls. The reserve was established in order to preserve the habitat for the Kulans. The landscape and soil in the area leave no doubt that not so long ago this was a seabed rather than steppe as fossils in the sediments indicate. Some mountainous areas are covered with semiprecious stones, salt, metal and coal sediments and sparkling glimmerstones, giving the countryside a futuristic look. We follow rough tracks used by local hunters, shepherds. On the way back the route crosses the wells of Dakhly Baba - one of the fiercest confrontation spots, where during the Russian Civil War the last surviving Turkmen Basmachi where massacred by the invading Bolshevik troops. By evening the group returns to Karayman for a last evening in the village.

Day 8
Drive to Karabogaz salt-water basin - 150 km

Yangykala CanyonsAfter breaking camp at Karayman in the morning, the group continues by truck on off-road tracks north-west towards the Kara Bogaz on a leisurely 150 km drive (4 hours) through the hills. Contrary to most maps, the water in the basin has returned to its original levels water levels filling an area the size of Belgium, after it had been dried out by some Soviet planners, in an attempt to exploit its mineral resources. The natural salt concentration is now at maximum and swimming unfortunately is not recommended, although floating could be better than on the Dead Sea. The group sets up camp near the drinking water source of Khodzhasu with amazing views of the impeccable blue water surface and cliffs stretching towards the horizon.

Day 9
Drive to Yangysu Canyon and cape Omchaly, horseriding - 120 km

After crossing the Yangysu penninsula, to the south-east coast of the Karabogaz, the track leads 50 km to the Yangysu Canyon through which the trucks climb to the plateau bordering the south edge of the basin. The trek continues westwards on the cliff with the basin in view. The area is populated by Kazaks - which can be seen by the colourful headwear and vests worn by the people in the village of Yazyegshem throuhg which we will be passing. There will be a break to try out some of the local Yomud horses in the village and to relax from the track before continuing down 35 km downhill onto cape Omchaly. In the evening we set camp on the Karabogaz shore.

Day 10
Drive to the Caspian shore, Fishing - 250 km

In the morning we continue 70 km via the villages of Syulmen and Khasan where we rejoin the asphalt road. The road continues 80 km to the city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) where the group lunches and then carries on a further 100 km north so that by mid-afternoon we can set camp on the wild Caspian shore providing a chance to wash off the dust and watch the sun go down with fresh sturgeon and other seafood from the grill. We will bring fishing lines for everybody to try his luck. The sea is incredibly clean and the breeze is just what people need in the summer heat. There used to be small settlements on the shore, but they have disappeared as the sea level of the Caspian has risen some 26 m in the eighties. Most of the shore is inaccessible because of difficult sand dunes, but there are a number of bays popular with the local hunters and fish poachers.

Day 11

Road drive to Bekdash and Karaada Lighthouse Island - 40 km

On this day, after a 40 km road drive, we reach Bekdash near the Kazakh Border. The city was once a thriving industrial place of almost 50,000 inhabitants and has now been reduced to the size of a village with basically no infrastructure left. We will camp on the Lighthouse Island of Karaada, which is reached in 20 minutes by motor boat. The rocky island is amidst a stream of water with a high oxygen level and has magnificent snorkelling, crab & shrimp fishing and sunbathing on this relaxation day. The water is surprisingly cool and has a thriving population of water snakes (non-poisonous) and curious seals. Natural pools of water on the rocks are filled by waves and contain crystal clear water warmed by the sun. Camp will be set up on the island and we will sleep to the restful sound of the waves right next to the waves breaking and enjoy the fresh sea breeze.

Day 12

Road drive to the Balkan mountain range - 300 km

After breakfast and returning to shore, we continue by truck, back south via Turkmenbashi towards Balkanabat. This is a slow 300 km trip via asphalt road. Again we will lunch at a good Turkish restaurant in Turkmenbashi and will also get a glimpse of the impressive local oil refinery and the mellow old Russian quarter with beautiful colourful colonial buildings. At the village of Yebel, a side road leads into the mountains where we will camp with a view of the entire area with the seashore on the horizon and the Kopetdag behind us. The wildlife is usually thriving and with some luck we will again be able to spot gazelles and huge eagles.

Day 13

Camel HappyRoad drive to Ashgabat, Bakharden underground lake - 450 km

On the 12th day the group returns to Ashgabat (450 km, 6 hours) by road. The tour stops at Bakharden lake - an underground lake formed by a hot spring in a cave 60 m below the ground and stretching over several kilometres. Only the first 70 metres are accessible and sufficiently lit and provide the relaxing occasion for a dip in the 36°C water before the last 100 km back to the Capital. After returning to Ashgabat the group will be accommodated at Chandybil Hotel and enjoy a western hotel meal.

Day 14

Ashgabat's Tolkuchka Bazaar, Departure

After breakfast we will visit the Tolkuchka Bazaar by minibus. The bazaar is a tourist must of Ashgabat, where it is said that everything on earth is on sale and where the whole country seems pilgrimage to on Sundays and it is definitely the city's most colourful face. Woollen rugs are most certainly the favourite buy, but rows and rows of colourfully dressed women offer traditional jewellery, beautiful traditional footwear, hand-woven silk and embroidery. Afterwards there will be time to relax by the pool and to explore our city. Some time after dinner the group is transferred to the airport for the late night departure.

Too long and too hard? Join us on a 3-day Desert adventure to the Nomads in the Central Karakum or on a weekend trip to the hill tribe of the Nokhurli!
© 2001-2010 STANtours last modified February 4, 2005